A CORONER is calling for safety improvements in a canal tunnel where a retired Lake District guest house owner fell off a narrowboat and drowned.

It comes after Michael Holgate’s widow desperately tried to raise the alarm to save her husband in the pitch black of Kidsgrove’s Harecastle Tunnel.

Mother-of-four Susan Holgate, who used to run the Green Gables guest house on Broad Street, Windermere, frantically sounded the vessel’s horn to draw attention to the tragedy. But no-one heard her cries for help.

An inquest in Hartshill heard the boat was finally rescued by canal workers from the tunnel two hours later.

Mr Holgate’s body was later recovered from the cold waters eight hours later on May 20.

Now North Staffordshire Coroner Ian Smith is to write to The Canal & River Trust to ask for lines of communication to be installed and that advice be given to passengers to wear a safety jacket when entering the 2,500-metre tunnel.

Mr Smith said: “My conclusion is that he died as a result of an accident.

“Somehow or another, Mr Holgate caught his head on the roof or side of the tunnel and from there, he’s gone into the water.

“He may have struck his head again on the boat or side of the tunnel or the propeller as it went past him. We don’t know. There would be a degree of shock as the water was cold. I would like to think his death was mercifully quick.”

Mr Holgate, a retired bus driver, had been on his way to Macclesfield with his family for a wedding when the incident happened.

The inquest heard the 58-year-old, had been driving the narrowboat while his wife Susan and their 44-year-old son Anthony sat at the front.

Mrs Holgate said: “We started going through the tunnel around 11am.

“We went two-thirds of the way without any problem.

“I was first aware there was a problem when the boat hit the side.

“The tunnel isn’t much wider than the boat.

“We were sat in the front so precisely what happened I don’t know.

“I shouted out and there was no reply. I got to the back and he wasn’t there.

“It was horrendous. I just shouted and screamed.

“I worked out how to reverse it out of the tunnel. I went all the way to the tunnel entrance and no one came in to rescue us or to see what was happening.

“I know it wouldn’t have saved him but I would hate for someone to go through what I went through.”

Mr Smith recorded an accidental death verdict.